Union Council on Monday 13th December was an eventful one, for a variety of reasons. The surprises began early, with the announcement by chair James Miles that several Union Council officers were ‘deemed to have resigned’, having failed to send apologies to three meetings of either Council or a standing committee.
One of these people included Aaron Bali, Environment and Ethics Officer. This was a huge surprise to many in the room as Aaron is an Executive Officer and trustee of the Union. Executive Officers are part-time volunteers, elected along with the Sabbatical officers, who balance their role in the union with their studies. Aaron is well known around SUSU and puts in a lot of time behind the scenes trying to maintain and develop its environmental and ethical practices, work that is often unrecognised. Aaron was notified of his position ten minutes before the start of Council, without having received any prior warning that he had any ‘black marks’.
The constitution states ‘Non-attendance of Union officers at Union Council and other Standing Committees will be recorded in the minutes of that committee. Any Officer who fails to give apologies for a duly called meeting will receive a `black mark’. If an Officer fails to give apologies for non-attendance at three meetings, they will be deemed to have resigned from office. Should this occur for a Sabbatical Officer, their case will be referred to the disciplinary Committee for consideration.’ This section of the constitution is part of the new standing orders approved at last years AGM, and is only available to be seen at agm.susu.org.
However there is at present no warning systems in place and officers are unable to check how many ‘black marks’ they have. Similar problems have arisen in previous years; however at the time of writing there remains no facility for officers to check their ‘black mark’ status.
Aaron has said ‘I think it’s a shame that this is the way that members of this organisation choose to treat some of their hard working volunteers. They will never encourage engagement with the Union by dishing out punishments like this. Furthermore, there seems to have been little due process, as I was a volunteer. Clearly this would be unacceptable if I was paid for my position, but it somehow seems acceptable as I donate this time and effort for free’
The implications of being recalled for an officer are significant. An officer may re-run for election at the next Union Council, however in the meantime they will be unable to continue the work they have begun. Aaron has expressed his frustration at this and says: ‘For me it’s a bit of a nightmare as I can’t continue on with any of the work I’ve been doing until, at the very least, January at the next Union Council when the position is open for re-election. Given that there’s no guarantee I could win, it obviously means that more or less everything I’ve been doing will be stopped or delayed until such time as I can hand over to a new candidate.’
Outrage at Aaron’s treatment is widespread, and a facebook ‘Petition to reinstate Aaron Bali as Environment and Ethics officer at SUSU’ has already been launched stating ‘Aaron Bali was deemed to have resigned due to not having sent apologies for missing 3 standing committees. Aaron dedicates an overwhelming amount of his time to SUSU, and I can think of nobody who takes their duties more seriously. Aaron was given no warning of his dismissal, and was not made aware that such a system was in place.’
Union President, Billy FitzJohn, has said ‘I am extremely disappointed by what happened at council with regard to elected officers’ black marks at standing committees. I am determined to look at this very seriously as part of the larger review of our democratic processes -particularly Council that is already underway. I am also determined not to simply sweep what happened at council yesterday under the carpet and will be working on the best solution for now and in the future.’
Aaron has not yet decided if he will be re running for the position of Environment and Ethics Officer in January, and it remains to be seen if SUSU will be putting processes in place to prevent the loss of more valuable volunteers.
Union Council also approved a motion for the restructure of the Sabbatical positions.